[Sometimes the best scenario planning we scenario consultants can do is based on scenarios that will never actually occur.]
JIM LEHRER: Good evening and welcome to the first 2012 presidential debate. This is the 413th debate I have moderated, and quite frankly, if there’s a 414th, I will shoot myself in the eye with a nailgun. So independently of the debate organizers, I took it upon myself to break into the green rooms of the contestants and drop some truth serum into each of their elitist Evian water bottles. I’m looking forward to this – I hope you are as well.
Now, Mr. Romney, your opening statement.
ROMNEY: Hello. I’m struggling to know how to feel at the moment. But that’s nothing new! [joined in laughter by OBAMA and LEHRER]. I want to be president, but I really want this campaign to be over. I don’t know how to act around large groups of people. Give me a spreadsheet any day. Just please elect me so this can be over and I don’t have to decide which of my 14 homes to retreat to in shame.
LEHRER: Thank you, Governor. Mr. President?
OBAMA: Hello. You know, uh, when this campaign began, I thought, gee, this Romney guy is going to be tough to beat. He’s handsome, he looks like a president, got a business track record, the economy stinks, we’ve obviously failed to revive it, and quite frankly we all know that the Republicans are not going to let me do squat in a second term. Sure, I gave the order to kill bin Laden, but we all know there was a lot of luck involved there. Health care is such a dog’s breakfast, who knows how that turns out. General Motors is alive, but that could turn to poop inside of a year too. Look. I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe you’ll all wise up and spontaneously elect a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in 2014 and I can pull this thing out of the fire. Maybe, uh, monkeys will fly out of my nether regions too [laughs; ROMNEY and LEHRER join in laughter].
LEHRER: Mr. President, what do you plan to do if re-elected?
OBAMA: Not a lot. Look, uh, as long as the filibuster exists, the Republicans will be able to veto anything I propose. And looking over history, it’s hard to find a second term of a president that was better than the first. Bush had the financial meltdown; Clinton had Monica; Reagan had Iran-Contra; Nixon resigned; Johnson had Vietnam; Ike had two recessions; Truman finished with 20% approval; FDR tried to pack the Supreme Court and unemployment went back up to 18%; Coolidge set us up for the Great Depression; Wilson had a stroke; none of Teddy Roosevelt’s Square Deal was enacted; McKinley stopped a bullet; Cleveland got a financial meltdown at the beginning of his second term; Grant ended up mired in scandal, Abe lasted a month, Andy Jackson had a state bank bubble and bust…No, I think we have to go back to Jimmy Monroe’s Era of Good Feeling from 1821-1825 to get the last really unambiguously more successful second term. And I don’t look like Monroe material, do I, Mitt?
ROMNEY [giggling]: No, sir, you do not.
OBAMA: So I guess the bottom line is, uh, look, the beatings continue until morale improves.
LEHRER: Governor Romney, what would you do if elected?
ROMNEY: Well, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. [General laughter.] Gosh I feel different. Is this what being relaxed is? Well, let’s see. If I’m elected, we’re probably going to see a Republican Congress, because something big would have to happen to change THESE polls, am I right, Mr. President? [OBAMA nods, smiling] Well, I haven’t really given it much thought, because I’ve pretty much turned myself inside out to accommodate this increasingly conservative Republican party. I’m probably going to have to assuage those people if I’m elected to some degree. To be honest, they scare me a little. I’m almost certainly going to do an Etch-A-Sketch on them and tack toward the center as soon as the ink is dry on the Electoral College certification. Who are the conservatives going to vote for in 2016, anyway? Me or Hillary? [giggles again; OBAMA high-fives him]
LEHRER: Governor, what would you do about the economy?
ROMNEY: Gosh, that’s a tough problem and I don’t like thinking about it. Can I pass?
LEHRER: Nice try, Governor [laughs along with OBAMA and ROMNEY].
ROMNEY: You can’t blame a brother for trying, am I wrong, Barack? [Both laugh] No, what we’re going to do is first we are going to fail to forestall that fiscal cliff thing. My goodness, that’s going to kick us right in the swimsuit area. Economic growth will go into reverse. And then my allies in Congress will demand that we cut the budget even more, even though betwen you and me, despite what I have been saying on the campaign trail, I know darned well that’s a straight path to H-E-Double-Hockeysticks. I will probably go along with that for awhile, until we get back to 10 or maybe 12 percent unemployment, highest. Then in 2014 the Democrats will sweep the Congressional elections and force me to do what I would rather have done from the start – fiscal stimulus. I’m pretty much counting on them to rescue me after those first two years of crud, if you’ll pardon the expression.
LEHRER: Mr. President, what’s your plan for the economy?
OBAMA: Quite frankly, uh, the Governor has stolen my thunder. If I win, as I said, the Republicans will still be able to stop anything I want. And the Democrats won’t lift a finger for me; I’ve seen more tenacious fighters at a Gandhi family picnic. So we’ll be going down the same trail of failure on the fiscal cliff as the Governor here. The one slight adjustment I’d make is that I wouldn’t get rescued by Democrats in 2014. First off, if a Dem president is seen as a failure, folks aren’t, uh, gonna be lining up to vote for other Democrats. So we’re never gonna get that stimulus jolt if I’m re-elected. So, look, uh, I have to tell you quite frankly, if I do get re-elected, I really will be rooting for that whole supply-side thing to be real.
ROMNEY: And I’ll be rooting for it not to be if I’M elected! Gosh, I’ll be the world’s biggest secret Keynesian.
OBAMA: Sort of ironic, if you think about it.
LEHRER: The fact that you can detect irony means that the drugs are wearing off, so I’ll ask you both one final question. What has been the biggest surprise to you about this campaign?
ROMNEY: That’s easy. I’ve been sort of expecting someone to hand me this thing on a platter, because although every single thing I got in this life I earned, after I earned it a little bit, they brought the silver platter in and gave it to me.
OBAMA: I guess my biggest surprise has been that, well, look, I’m a remote, kind of cold, elitist, religiously non-standard, Harvard-educated lawyer and descendant of polygamists from another country on my father’s side, and I guess I was not expecting the party that claims to hate me so much to nominate a remote, kind of cold, elitist, religiously non-standard, Harvard-educated lawyer and descendant of polygamists from another country on his father’s side.
ROMNEY: …Come to think of it, that is quite ironic, is it not? Maybe we shouldn’t be this open…are those cameras on?
LEHRER: Well, it appears the drugs have begun to wear off, so it’s time for me to sign off permanently from moderating these things. America, you’ve been warned, and probably profoundly depressed, but you can’t say you have not been informed. For PBS News, I’m Jim Lehrer from the first and now probably the last 2012 presidential debate. Good night, and God help America.
OBAMA: Uh…did I actually say something about rooting for supply-side economics?
ROMNEY: Where’re my pants?